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DescriptionLEON GASPARD (Russian/American, 1882-1964)
Siberian Girl (No. 14), 1922
Oil on silk laid on board
12-1/2 x 15-1/2 inches (31.8 x 39.4 cm)
Signed, inscribed, and dated lower left: Leon Gaspard / Urga, 1922
Titled, inscribed, and dated verso: No. 14 Siberian Girl / painted in Urga 1922
Private collection, Chicago;
Gifted to Mr. Roman Wronski, 1950s;
Thence by descent to his wife Mae Wronski, 1997;
Thence by descent to current owner, 2003.
In the gloom of a downtown Chicago basement, Siberian Girl has resided in virtual obscurity for the latter half of the twentieth century. It might not seem that she has led a charmed life, but her survival is a testament to the promises made - and kept - to a dying woman. Painted in 1922 by one of the greatest portraitists of the modern era, Leon Gaspard has rendered the delicate likeness of a young peasant girl against the vibrant backdrop of her traditional Siberian dress. Gaspard's trademark compositional structure has placed the girl slightly off center within the viewer's plane, a row of abstracted villagers arcing away from her in the snowy distance. This masterwork - painted four years after Gaspard moved to Taos, New Mexico - has hung in isolation, been threatened with destruction, and now returns from exile to receive its long overdue celebration.
During the fifties, Roman Wronski was the maintenance man for an affluent high rise apartment building in Chicago. While on a call to one of the building's units, he found himself face to face with Gaspard's Siberian Girl. Struck by the beauty of the painting, he happened to compliment the work to its owner. The owners took notice of his appreciation and, when they moved, gifted the painting to Roman in thanks. The painting, however, was met with little enthusiasm by his wife Mae. Despite her husband's insistence that the work was valuable, she refused to display it in her home. Thus it was relegated to hang in the building's basement, residing in obscurity for the next four decades. After Roman's death in 1997, the painting returned to the Wronski's apartment. Mae began asking her niece to help find the painting's true value, and her niece promised to do so despite doubts within the family of its worth.
When Mae passed away in 2003, Siberian Girl was inherited by the Wronski's niece. The family pressed her to discard of the work once and for all, skeptical that the painting would be worth anything. Unfamiliar with Gaspard, even her son urged her to throw it away or simply toss it in the dumpster. Thankfully, she could never bring herself to destroy the painting nor break the promise she had made to her aunt. Through her diligence and devotion, Heritage Auctions is pleased to present this rediscovered masterwork of Leon Gaspard.
Silk laid down on board by artist. Paint layer is in good condition with scattered passages of yellowing varnish due to age. No major condition issues to note. Not examined outside of frame. Framed Dimensions 24.5 X 27.5 Inches
Gaspard, Leon:Although Leon Gaspard established his early career as a painter of Russian peasant subjects, he ultimately found commercial success in Taos, New Mexico, with his expressive portraits of Pueblo Indians. Born in 1882 outside of Moscow, Gaspard as a boy traveled with his fur-trader father throughout Russia, China, Mongolia, Tibet, and northern Africa, becoming fascinated with ethnography. His art training in Vitebsk introduced him and fellow student Marc Chagall to Post-Impressionist color, which he coupled with an attention to draftsmanship after studying in 1901 at the Académie Julien. By the 1910s, Gaspard had developed his signature composition: vividly colored, densely populated landscapes with Russian peasants parading at festivals, caravanning through the snow, or gathering at the town market. This same interest in village daily life appears in his paintings from Taos, where he and his wife settled after World War I, thanks in large measure to their friendship with painter Herbert "Buck" Dunton.
*Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.
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